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This Week’s Show: Great Music and A Special eChievement Award!

Man oh man. I love my gig. Singing, writing, editing, research . . always lots to do but all interesting, stimulating, rewarding stuff. One of THE most satisfying things I do here at eTown is producing the eChievement Award (along with my incredible assistant Steph Ladroga). I guess a big part of that for me is knowing that that particular segment is making a positive impact on people. Everyday we hear from those who’ve benefited in some way from that part of the show.

From our Award winners, like

EC Ed Gross_TrashDogs1Ed Gross, Trash Dogs, Brooking, OR (voluntarily cleaning up our national forests):
“Just a short message to let you and everyone at eTown know we’ve had a plethora of responses to the rerun of the show we were on.  Listeners all over the states responded. Thanks so much.  Gotta go now, eTown is on-air KSOR as we speak!”

Sharon Black, Kau Kau Soup Kitchen Wagon, Aiea, HI:
We got a group from Washington University that came to us because they heard us on your show; the whole group volunteered! So MAHALO again many times over. I feel very fortunate and still in shock that eTown did this for us and gave us the opportunity to share our mission with others from across the seas. Never could imagine that happening to us. WOW!”

Dr. William (Bill) Allen, volunteer at The Love Kitchen soup kitchen, Knoxville, TN:
“Remember Helen and Ellen, 82 year old twins running the Love Kitchen in Knoxville? You gave them the award and brought tons of attention, and the snowball rolled down hill big time! After they won your award, they got over $5000.00 and bought a deep freezer (for years we called it “eTown”); they got $20,000 in the Millionaire show, and food and equipment worth $20,000 from the Oprah show.  Other donations followed…”

EC Carol Hofgartner  copyCarol Hofgartner, Detroit MI (bringing art classes to low income schools):
“We received a $1,000 donation from a lady in New York and several other donations from across the country. This is huge for ‘Art Road.’  Thank you!“

Lea Bishop, Senior Center Lunch Program, WA:
“Our City Council’s budget process for this year has been pretty brutal and the lunch program was on a list of programs to be eliminated… the exposure from your program was helpful in making up their minds to keep and subsidize our lunch program.”

And from our listeners, people like

Listener Veronica Johnson, Asheville NC:  ”I have been listening to eTown on WNCW for many years now.  I love listening because it lets the nation know about all of the good things that people (sometimes right in our backyard) are doing. And hearing about them and their achievements gives me hope for the human race.”

Listener Jack Dunigan, New Boston NH:  ”I enjoy hearing the E-Chievement Award each week. It’s particularly inspiring to hear about stories like these where young people are taking action to good things. As Nick often says, ‘The kids are alright.’”

Listener Nii Nortey, Albany NY:  “A very big appreciation to you and eTown’s effort in showcasing what the little people do to affect their community the best they know how. I listen to eTown mostly for the eChievement Award and general insightful news and educative information.”

Listener Travis Julia, Colorado (re: Award Winner Nancy Clark):  “I’d been trying to think of a present for my mother, then I heard the eChievement Award about the Zienzele Foundation and their work. The two baskets I ordered arrived with a note explaining that my purchase had paid for eleven children to go to school for a year! Here is this great little non-profit but they have a hard time getting the word out; and then eTown becomes this bridge. I have to wonder how many people that you never hear from are like me, compelled to do something because of what they hear on your show. Thanks for what you do!

Hearing about the positive results for our winners, as well as the inspiring, uplifting impact the segment has on our listeners, makes all of us here at eTown feel so proud of the eChievement Award and all that it stands for: Sharing the stories of everyday folks who’ve taken a step to improve the lot of others. We’re devoted to presenting our winners ‘in the most flattering and accurate light’ (the mantra we’ve operated by for over two decades now) in the hopes that our listeners will be motivated to reach out and lend support to the efforts of those winners. And happily, many of you do!

DSC_1938-EditOur winner of the Award this week, though, is not an ‘everyday’ person. Rather, she’s a major celebrity: Judy Collins. Besides being one of our musical guests, Judy will be honored with a “Lifetime eChievement Award” and rightfully so. This eloquent, elegant folk icon is an incredible artist who has voluntarily lent her name, voice, time and resources in support of countless environmental and social causes. Judy Collins is truly the perfect eTown musical guest, both because of her musical gifts and for what she stands for as a person. We love her here at eTown. And you’ll love both her story and her performance on this week’s “back by popular demand” rebroadcast.

Ari blogAlso joining us is eTown newcomer Ari Hest, who’s has been playing music professionally since he was still in college (he’s in his mid 30’s now). He’s a terrific vocalist and a truly gifted, sensitive songwriter that I think you’ll really enjoy.

This is an especially special week to tune in (or podcast/download),  with amazing music and complelling conversation.  (For a visual, see the videos below too.)




This Week's E-chievement Award.

Helen Ashe & Ellen Turner are 80-year old identical twins that were born into a sharecropper family in the south. Inspired by their father’s words: “Never take the last piece of bread — there may be someone hungrier than you,” they started The Love Kitchen in Knoxville, TN, in 1986, to help feed the hungry. This nonprofit, non-denominational community center provides hot meals, emergency groceries, and home delivered meals to thousands each week. Since beginning, The Love Kitchen has fed well over a million people.

The award was presented to the sisters during the taping of an Etown show featuring musical guests Ben Harper & Sonya Kitchell. This show airs September 17-23, 2008. Click here to find out how to listen to the entire show.

To learn more about Etown’s listener-nominated E-Chievement Award, make a nomination, and/or listen to the interview with our winner, click here.


The 78-year-old twins Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner have been celebrities in East Knoxville for at least 20 years, ever since they started the service for the needy known as the Love Kitchen on MLK Blvd. As of this past weekend, they’re national celebrities as well. The live-audience radio program etown—think of a more earnest, philanthropic version of A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly show with music and stories, which is aired on over 200 mostly public radio stations nationwide—regularly bestows an “e-chievement award” (don’t ask us) on “individuals who are working hard to make a positive difference in their communities and beyond.” An interview with Mrs. Ashe shared the bill with musicians Ben Harper and Sonya Kitchell. The show was broadcast, as it usually is, on WUTK 90.3 on Saturday at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Metro Pulse “Ear”, Vol 16, Issue 20.

Tegan & Sara! Joshua James! And Thanksgiving!

DSC_3593Wow! Who would’ve thought? The hot, hot, hot musical duo Tegan and Sara is with us this week for their first visit to eTown. Over the 14 years these two have been out there performing together, they’ve built an adoring worldwide following. Their more recent indie/pop, synth-pop sound is totally identifiable – you hear one of their songs and you instantly know its them. Tegan & Sara have hit it especially big of late, selling nearly one million albums and touring with musicians from The Killers to Neil Young to Dallas Green (aka City & Colour). These days they’re selling out to HUGE crowds (and teaming up with people like Taylor Swift, right?). So imagine how surprised and happy we were when these two talented Canadian (ooh, you know how I LOVE Canadians!) sisters decided to do an eTown taping in our intimate 200 seat, acoustically perfect hall. They’re really delightful souls, both of them, so cool and so conscious; I’m so happy to have met them, and I know you’ll love hearing (we’re shaking things up a bit, deviating from our normal stripped down musical presentations in favor of their infectious, energetic synth offerings) and learning more about them.

DSC_3859To even things out and bring us back to our eTown musical roots: Alt-rock singer and songwriter Joshua James is with us. Joshua has been described by Variety Magazine as “a young Midwestern… who writes hard-bitten songs of family tragedies and sings them in a voice that’s as sun-bleached and wind-battered as a Nebraska cornfield.” He was selected recently as one of Paste Magazine’s “Next 25 Artists You Need to Know.” Great guy. He’s accompanied by his talented friend Evan Coulombe, and Nick and I get to join them both. Great fun!

So  . . . its creative, exciting live music, plus an uplifting E-Chievement Award winner who’s helping people get through the cold New England winters, all for you this week in eTown. Be sure to check out the great videos below.

Once again, as I said last week, I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving holiday. My heart goes out to those of you who will not be able to spend it with family or friends; I know that happens sometimes, been there myself albeit a while back now, and I know its hard. If you can, find a way to reach out to others, help out at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or a senior center or whatever; I have found that that can really make you grateful for what you do have, on your own or not. And the joy you get from helping another human being can make your day a lot fuller and richer.

Blessings on you all! Thanks for all of your interest, enthusiasm and support of eTown, the mission, the message, the music.

We could not do it without you.

Till next week,


We did it!! Plus the scoop on this week’s eTown broadcast

Hello all,

Hurray! Great news: We met our $100,000 matching grant!

Huge thanks to all of you who took the time to make a tax-deductible donation to eTown. Many of you know, but some may not, that eTown is produced each week by a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a forum for in-depth, respectful dialogue. We celebrate sustainability, good works and our planet, while providing a venue for a variety of others (visiting artists included) to speak their minds and provide information you won’t hear on mainstream media about environmental and social issues that concern us all. And we surround all that with one-of-a-kind live performances from amazing musicians of all kinds.

We only reach out once a year for operational support; and those of you who responded didn’t let us down. You dug deep, and you helped us reach our $100K challenge, which matched your donation, dollar for dollar. Yup, your donation was doubled.

The grant came from a generous and dedicated eTown supporter who lives in the Northwest (he prefers to remain anonymous).  We can’t thank him enough. And we deeply appreciate your help as well. If you gave, please know that you too are responsible for keeping eTown on the air. Thanks so much, from all of us here. We couldn’t do this without you.

On to this week’s airing:

We’ve got two outstanding male performers for you this week, both with incredibly distinctive and wonderful singing voices (I’m always drawn to the singing as you know), JJ Grey and Ray LaMontagne. You couldn’t find two more dynamic, amazing, gorgeous and totally identifiable voices, and you get both of them in this eTown episode:

Ray LaMontagne JJ G Mofro sm-0086Nick and I and the eTown crew host Ray and his band, The Pariah Dogs, in this ‘back by popular demand broadcast/podcast. Ray is a real favorite amongst our listeners, and he’s also been a supportive friend to eTown, taking the time to appear on the show several times now. This time around, he and the band (Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Eric Heywood and Greg Leisz) perform songs from their hit project “God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise.” It’s funny, every time Ray does an album (er, CD) I think wow, this is THE best one he’s ever done. Then the next one comes out and I say it again. I say it here too; this one is amazing, all the songs are just incredible. I love how Ray connects with Nick, too; I think Nick, just being who he is and also having been a successful fulltime touring musician himself for so many years, has a wonderful way of drawing performers out (Ray even makes reference this show to how their conversations together have ‘evolved’ each time!). If nothing else, their chat together here is well worth tuning in for.

But wait! There’s more! (OK, you knew that.)

Ray LaMontagne JJ G Mofro sm-9634Another eTown veteran, JJ Grey, is with us this week as well. JJ is an amazing, warm-hearted, passionate humble and eloquent guy, a remarkable performer who has a deep-seated appreciation and affection for his family and also for the natural environment in his beloved state of Florida. He talks with Nick about such things in a really wonderful, revealing conversation. He and his band, the fabulous Mofro, offer their signature southern-swamp rock/blues sound, guaranteed to get you dancing in the kitchen, or wherever you are hearing the show (careful if you’re driving).

Ray LaMontagne JJ G Mofro sm-9931As always, there’s a great
E-Chievement Award story; this week our winner is actually with us ‘live and in person,’ which I always love.

This one’s got it all; precisely why you’ve let us know you want to hear it again!


PS Hey just want to let you know that Nick will be performing with Danny Barnes as a duo coming up in Oregon on Feb. 9; tell all your friends in the Portland area . . . I’ll provide you with more details next week!

Feel free to comment on this blog entry if you like. Please also join me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. Let’s stay connected!

Our First Show from eTown Hall! With musical guests: City and Colour / Birds of Chicago

What an absolute thrill, our first show from eTown Hall! And I’ll be very sad if you don’t join us for this most monumental occasion. Let me tell you about it:

Nick & I welcome renowned Canadian singer and songwriter, Dallas Green, who performs under the moniker City and Colour. He has an unmistakable sound, both instrumentally and vocally, he’s insanely popular (actually its not insane at all because he’s a really incredible singer and songwriter, and TONS of people just love him, are moved by his work and have become devoted fans), and we’re so excited to have him with us for his first visit to eTown. Dallas is such a cool guy. Really down to earth, thoughtful and totally unassuming. None of that “don’t you know who I think I am” going on here. He’s really talented and extremely popular (this show sold out in record time) yet he’s so unaffected by fame. He also totally gets what eTown is all about, bringing people together through music. (A bit of eTown trivia: Dallas loves the ‘green’ aspect of the building, the way we recycled and reused tons of material as we renovated, and have tried to make this one of the most eco-friendly buildings in the country.  He also digs the mission of the non-profit that produces eTown, so much so that he turned in his pay at the end of the night and donated it to the building fund! All of us here were totally blown away.)

Also joining us for the first time is the dynamic duo Birds of Chicago, which consists of two talented musicians, JT Nero and Allison Russell (they’re two emerging artists who’re gathering a following in American Roots music). There’s of course an inspiring
E-Chievement Award story, this one from California (who, it turns out, is a huge eTown fan and regular listener to the show); and a lot of great conversation, too. Be sure to join us if you can!

Back to our first show at eTown Hall:

People wonder: What’s that like? Well . . It’s a thrill. It’s nervous making. It’s incredibly exciting. And it’s surreal. I mean, you can imagine, after all this time, we’re all (meaning me, Nick, our staff, crew, volunteers, board members, patrons, the contractors, workers etc.) thinking, “Is this really happening? Finally?” After so many years of securing the building and then making it a workable, living, breathing place, it almost doesn’t seem like it’s really true. But the fact is, the building is basically 98% DONE.

Yup. 98% of the building is completed. Oh, there’s trim still to install, the kitchen in the coffeehouse needs to be installed, there’s still work to be done in the recording studio, and even little stuff still in the hall (a few doors that need installing, cushions for the pews, etc). But it’s close. The stage is done; the lights are in, the sound is phenomenal, the new seats are so comfortable – a big deal for me, I pushed for that! – it’s happening.

And we’re getting close with the fundraising part of this project too. We’ve raised just over 80% of the funds necessary to pay for the building! Pretty great. Obviously, though, we’ve got a ways to go. And I want to reach out to you and ask for your help. How?

First, please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Second, like us on Facebook (join our group page, or friend me, Helen Forster . . or better yet, both! Then suggest your friends do the same). Spread the word about eTown and eTown Hall, by email, snail mail, word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook. Help me start a movement! If everyone can give a little, we can make this happen. And if you know of someone with deep pockets who might wish to support a worthy cause, please, send them our way, will you? We are SO close.

My deepest thanks, lots of love, talk next week,


A Note From Helen

Hi friends,

First of all, I want to tell you about this week’s broadcast. It’s an encore airing, one of my absolute favorites. We welcome back legendary folkie and an Etown favorite, singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith. As many of you know, Nanci is one of my heroes; and it’s a thrill to rebroadcast this show! This time, she returns with her long-time back up band. Also on the show is a really impressive young talent, Paris-based singer-songwriter, Piers Faccini. Piers calls on the Etones to back him up musically (which was really cool for me, I love his music and I love singing with him!). Plus, there is an outstanding E-Chievement Award story from Portland, Oregon that you won’t want to miss, all this week, in Etown. I hope you can tune in!

Second, I realized I had promised to continue the saga of becoming aware of environmental issues and also of the preciousness of our land and our resources last week, then spaced doing so. So here goes:

When last we left, I was a young college kid whose world had been rocked by the first environmental studies class taught at the U of Minnesota. Changed me and my outlook on the world forever.

When I graduated, I moved to Telluride, fresh out of college. Early on in my
15 years living in the Telluride area, I (with my former husband) lived in a cabin for over 6 years, a cabin that had no running water nor insulation. I had an out house and kept chickens, hauled water and helped to down standing dead trees for firewood (I got especially good at chopping kindling).
The only heat source for the cabin was the enormous old 6 ft. long cook stove in the kitchen. So it was a pretty rustic existence. Now why you may wonder, am I telling you this?

The answer is that I probably could not have done that for those 6 years had
I not take that class mentioned above. Those 6 years really reinforced for me where things come from and also how important our natural resources are (when you are hauling your water, every teaspoon becomes precious!). By the way, I should mention that all the while, I was doing professional theater as a member in two different companies in town, performing musically, and running a store on Main Street; in other words, my existence was quite normal outside of the water/wood/heat/chickens/outhouse thing . . oh, and bathing in a basin in the kitchen — we of course had no bathroom — with water hauled and heated on the cook stone (shades of Laura Ingalls Wilder there!) My first husband and I eventually divorced, but not b/c of that experience and well after we’d left that rustic life and had lived in a ‘regular’ house for a few years.

Those two things – that brand new environmental studies class and living that lifestyle for 6 years – really led me to doing what I do today. Years later, I met and married my current husband, my soul mate, Nick, who as you know is a successful professional musician. When he returned home from a US
State Department tour in Eastern Europe in 1990, we started Etown. There’s more to the story, but it’ll have to wait till a week or two down the road.

Have a great week, talk to you next week,
Xo Helen

Expanded ‘etown’ brings Ladies back

By G. Brown, Denver Post Popular Music Writer

It may be a mythical place, but for a dozen years, “etown” has grown.

The not-for-profit, Boulder- based radio program has become a real force, heard on more than 150 stations across the nation.

The weekly show tapes before a live, paying audience, usually at the Boulder Theater. Musician Nick Forster, the show’s principal host, brings in musicians and intersperses their performances with discussions of environmental issues. The sets are shorter than standard concerts, but patrons enjoy a smaller venue than those in which the artists usually play.

Celebrating 12 years on the air, “etown” tapes a show Monday at a bigger venue – Red Rocks Amphitheatre. “etown rocks” is an all-day festival with music from Barenaked Ladies, Keller Williams, Michelle Shocked, Blind Boys of Alabama and surprise guests.

Forster hopes the audience comes for the music.

“This is a festival honoring 12 years of ‘etown,’ so it’s not really the ‘etown’ format (of) short sets and live interviews on stage,” he said. “These are full sets from the artists, just a great day of music.”

Like the other performers on the bill, Barenaked Ladies are “etown” veterans. The band’s last appearance on the radio show was a personal victory lap for keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn.

“It was April 2001, just after I came back,” Hearn said recently. “The money for that gig went to cancer research, which meant a lot to us at the time.”

In 1995, as founding member Andrew Creeggan was leaving the band, Hearn was asked if he would join Barenaked Ladies for a summer tour. He wound up a full-time member.

With the Ladies constantly touring and solidifying their rabid North American fan base, Hearn made his first recorded appearance on the band’s fourth full-length album, “Rock Spectacle.” It became their breakthrough platinum record in the U.S.

But in 1998, Hearn, was diagnosed with leukemia just as the “Stunt” album hit the stores. Awaiting a stem-cell transplant in a Toronto cancer hospital, he was unable to join the band on its first arena tour of the U.S.

Miraculously, over two physically and emotionally draining years, Hearn pulled through.

“As any cancer survivor knows, you don’t just get better,” he said. “It’s something you live with, a new life. I have ups and downs. (The time) off from touring has been fantastic, just to be at home and cook and get back in touch with feeling healthy again. It’s been a bit of a struggle this year, to be honest, but overall I’m cancer-free now for five years.”

The multitalented Hearn is heard all over the 14 original songs that make up “Everything to Everyone,” a new Barenaked Ladies album scheduled for release Oct. 21.

“We’ve done this record differently in that we wrote together as a band as opposed to hearing songs brought in by Steve (Page) and Ed (Robertson) and writing our parts for them in less than two weeks,” he said. “Over the course of a year, we wrote 30 songs and brought in this great producer, Ron Aniello, and recorded. It was a hard record to make,” he said. “Changing your routine like that is a bit difficult. We’re like five cooks in a small kitchen.”

At Red Rocks, the band’s set will include songs from “Everything to Everyone.” “Another Postcard” is about … chimps on stationery?

“It’s about someone who’s getting upset at (receiving) postcards from a stalker – they’re all from different places with chimpanzees on them,” Hearn explained. “Steve and Ed started singing it in our writing sessions one day. They laughed it off – ‘Ha-ha, we can’t do that’ – and I was like, ‘That made me laugh. We should do it. It puts a smile on people’s faces, it’s a good thing.’

“It ended up being demoed, and now it’s the first single. I may have to keep my mouth shut – or not!”

Hearn had a hand in writing “Celebrity.”

“It’s got a definite Beatles influence to it, but hopefully in a good way – I just love John Lennon’s simple piano style, and that’s where the song started, with the piano and the vocal line,” he said.

“I brought in most of the words, and Ed and Steve tweaked it a little,” Hearn said. “I was fascinated by the phenomenon of celebrity and the media hype behind people like Jennifer Lopez.

“And then I’d be hanging out with my cousin, (comedian) Harland Williams – the cop in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ – and he’d be getting bugged nonstop,” he said. “Then I read an interview with David Bowie, who said, ‘I wouldn’t wish fame on my worst enemy.’ All those things were running through my head. I never thought it would end up being the first song on the new record, but I’m happy about that.”

Now it’s back to the hard work of touring.

“‘etown’ allows us to strip down instrumentally and play more intimately and acoustically, which is what we did when the band started,” Hearn said. “It’s always been a good vibe – sorry to sound New Age-y – but it’s fun for us to talk and tell stories about the songs and do a little bit of a different kind of show.

“But because we haven’t toured in a little while, this looming big tour we have is a little frightening,” he added with a nervous laugh. “It’s strange when you grow out of four or five guys making music that you like, and it turns into the record company, the management, the audience – you find yourself trying to please everybody. Sometimes you can lose the plot of it if you’re not careful.”

On the Rocks

Who:Barenaked Ladies, Keller Williams, Michelle Shocked, Blind Boys of Alabama

Where:Red Rocks Amphitheatre

When:3 p.m. Monday

Tickets:$35-$40; through Ticketswest; call 800-325-7328 or visit